This post contains frank discussion of The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story premiere: “The Man Who Would Be Vogue.”[hhmc]
Though he’s been in the spotlight for 35 years now, former Menudo member and “Livin’ La Vida Loca” singer Ricky Martin has always presented a comfortable and familiar on-stage persona. White teeth glinting, eyes sparkling, hair styled to perfection—when you see a showman like Martin, be it in Vegas or on Broadway, you know what you’re getting. But in the first Ryan Murphy-directed episode of The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story, Martin gives his fans something they’ve never seen from him before: despair, and lots of it. The Puerto Rico-born Martin plays Antonio D’Amico, longtime lover of Gianni Versace, who—spoiler alert, if you ignored the title of this series altogether—dies on the front steps of the lavish house he and Antonio shared in the show’s opening scene.
Martin spends the rest of the episode grief-stricken and covered in Versace’s blood. In a striking, wordless, and unscripted moment, Martin lets his eternally optimistic mask slip off entirely and he’s fantastic. The gleaming smile gone and eyes sagging with exhaustion, Martin—wearing the personal grief of his own decades spent in the closet—stares at himself in the mirror. “I guess Ryan wanted to use and take advantage of that vulnerability,” Martin said in a new interview for Vanity Fair’s American Crime Story companion podcast, Still Watching: Versace. Approaching Martin after nine hours of filming both the discovery of Versace’s body and a confrontational police interrogation scene, Murphy said, “Rick, come on, let’s go to the bathroom. I want you to stand in front of the mirror. Wash your hands because you’ve been covered in blood for the last 10 hours and give me whatever you can in front of the mirror.” In that moment, Martin says, he was “exhausted, drained, and really sad.”
From the age of 12, Martin lived his life in the public eye—first as an earnest boy bander for the Latino pop group Menudo, and eventually as a worldwide solo-singing sensation. But until the age of 38, the Catholic-raised Martin kept the truth about his sexuality a secret. He tells Still Watching that he felt an “internalized homophobia,” which similarly plagued both Gianni Versace and his assassin: Andrew Cunanan. Martin describes those decades as “the most uncomfortable and saddest times of my life. I thought my emotions were evil because that’s what they told me. You’re not supposed to feel like this.” In past interviews, his familiar, comforting smile always in place, Martin has spoken of undiagnosed depressive periods that lifted significantly when he took to his own Web site in 2010 and came out of the closet.
Murphy’s choice of Martin for this role is genius casting for a series that explores the warping, damaging effect of closeted sexuality and aspirational lifestyles. Martin represents, for many, the epitome of the closeted 90s. Barbara Walters, who has expressed few professional regrets in her life, admitted in 2010 that she had pressed Martin too hard on the quasi open-secret of his sexuality in 2000, calling her line of questioning “inappropriate.”
The singer was living in Miami during Versace’s late-90s South Beach reign, and though the two never met—“I had a Giorgio Amani campaign at the time,” Martin explains—he was frequently invited to attend parties at the Versace mansion. As an out and proud designer, Versace was an anomaly even in the gay-friendly world of fashion. Though Versace’s open sexuality did nothing for Martin at the time (“on the contrary I was so locked in a closet”), the singer relates to the example Versace set, having done the same for many of his own fans in 2010. “No one knows how easy it is to come out until they do it.”
Martin finally showed up to the Versace house 20 years later, when, for two weeks last spring, American Crime Story moved into the designer’s old home on Ocean Drive (now a hotel) in order to meticulously re-create the scene of the crime. Martin said he “lived” as Antonio the entire time he was in that house—and unlike most of his co-stars, Martin was able to talk to the real person who inspired his performance.
Adopting a dramatic Italian accent, Martin tells Still Watching of Antonio’s initial disappointment with some photos that had leaked off the set: “Ricky! I never wear a green shirt!” But that early pushback from D’Amico turned into a close dialogue between Antonio and Martin, the man who would become him. Versace’s longtime partner answered Martin’s most difficult questions in painstaking detail, to the point where Martin was able to come armed with, perhaps, more firsthand insight than anyone else in the cast. “Everything that you see,” he says, “is based on the communication I had directly with Antonio D’Amico.”
The research Martin did paid off, as did his close friendship with Edgar Ramirez the actor playing Gianni Versace—whom Martin enthusiastically calls his “brother.” But Murphy’s stroke of genius in turning Martin’s real-life emotional exhaustion into theater is what delivers up the episode’s most arresting image. And Martin, who so bravely shared a closely guarded secret with his fans in 2010, shares yet another truth in the American Crime Story premiere: the traumatic toll that secret life took on him, even as he smiled broadly and shook his bon bon for all the world to see.
You can listen to the full interview with Martin on the latest episode of Still Watching: Versace. Subscribe on Apple Podcasts or your podcast app of choice, and don’t miss a single behind-the-scenes interview as Vanity Fair follows along closely with American Crime Story Season 2.
Get Vanity Fair’s HWD NewsletterSign up for essential industry and award news from Hollywood.Full ScreenPhotos:The Versace: American Crime Story Cast and Their Real-Life Counterparts
Édgar Ramírez as Gianni Versace
The Emmy nominee stars as the limited series’s namesake, the flamboyant designer murdered in Miami at the peak of his career.Photo: Left, by David Lees/The LIFE Images Collection; Right, by Rachel Murray, both from Getty Images.
Penélope Cruz as Donatella Versace
The Oscar-winning actress will go blonde to play Versace’s sister, who took over the creative aspects of her brother’s fashion empire after his murder.Photo: Left, by Catherine McGann; Right, by Samir Hussein/WireImage, both from Getty Images.
Darren Criss as Andrew Cunanan
Criss has come a long way from his Glee days; he’ll play serial killer Cunanan, who ended his cross-country murder spree by killing himself before the police could apprehend him.Photo: Left, by Jamie Scott Lytle/Sygma; Right, by Mike Windle, both from Getty Images.
Ricky Martin as Antonio D’Amico
The Latin pop sensation will show off his acting chops as Versace’s longtime partner, an Italian designer with a fraught relationship to the Versace family.Photo: Left, by Alberto Roveri/Mondadori Portfolio; Right, by Venturelli/WireImage.PreviousNext
Joanna RobinsonJoanna Robinson is a Hollywood writer covering TV and film for VanityFair.com.